Stoicism and Ingratitude – Legend All the Way Down

The popularity of Stoicism is on the rise, and it’s not hard to see why. It offers some sense of direction and purpose to a generation that is lost and has been taught from birth that everything is meaningless. It speaks some hard truths people are desperate to hear. It calls for responsibility and discipline and is above all a very practical philosophy, with maxims to practice and do.

It also has the advantage of having a large body of literature that is accessible and readable, and the Stoics should probably we required reading for all people of the West.

A pagan could do much worse than Stoicism. Though ultimately, it can lead to despair. Just read up on the lives of some popular Stoics and how their lives ended. Or how they wrote about suicide.

One of the other dangers, I think, is a cultivation of ingratitude. This isn’t unique to Stoicism, but it can fester in unique ways.

Take this quote from Marcus Aurelius:

“Like seeing roasted meat and other dishes in front of you and suddenly realizing: This is a dead fish. A dead bird. A dead pig. Or that this noble vintage is grape juice, and the purple robes are sheep wool dyed with shellfish blood. Or making love – something rubbing against your penis, a brief seizure and a little cloudy liquid. Perceptions like that – latching onto things and piercing through them, so we see what they really are. That’s what we need to do all the time – all through our lives when things lay claim to our trust – to lay them bare and see how pointless they are, to strip away the legend that encrusts them.”

If this is the lens you start to see everything through, your life will start to seem rather drab and dreary. True, it will help inoculate you if you ever lose access to the finer things…but to what end? What if the vaccine is worse than the disease?

Better the Christian way. In everything, give thanks. Everything is sanctified through thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:4-5). All things are a gift from God. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, and either way, blessed be the name of the Lord. It was never ours to begin with. We were just stewards for a time.

Enjoy them, but let them point you to the One who is eternal and never-changing.

“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” – Psalm 34:8

“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.” – Ecclesiastes 9:7

“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.”  – Isaiah 25:6

May your fountain be blessed,
    and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
     A loving doe, a graceful deer—
    may her breasts satisfy you always,
    may you ever be intoxicated with her love.” – Proverbs 5:18-19

This is how the Bible talks about these things. Revel in the legend that encrusts them, because the creator of the legend was God himself, and it turns out that when you get through the crust, it’s still legend all the way down.

Stoicism wants us to see things as they really are. But that’s only possible through unrelenting gratitude and the eyes of faith.

Children of Voldemort

Those who harp on privilege, steeped in postmodern thought, are the children of Voldemort. “There is no good and evil, there is only power…and those too weak to seek it.”

Ironically, they try to gain this power by claiming victimhood and oppression. By claiming to be weak. This is a stark parody of Jesus, who did indeed gain power and authority by humbly submitting to being a victim.

And He is the only true victim.

Trollhunters and the Value of Life

I’ve been watching Trollhunters, a Netflix original series, with my kids lately. We’ve all been enjoying it. It’s well-produced, full of thrilling action scenes that bounce around an epic mythology and a diverse array of characters.

If you’re a fan of the vision of Guillermo del Toro, as exemplified in movies like Hellboy and Pan’s Labryinth, you’re in for a treat. Trollhunters is overflowing with the same colorful, zany design. (And also, Ron Perlman). As such, it can be a bit dark and scary, but this makes it more thrilling when the darkness is chased away.

While I can’t give it an unqualified thumbs up as appropriate for all kids, there is one lesson it bestowed that bears repeating, one that we would all do well to take to heart.

One of the main characters, a big troll named (I kid you not) AAARRRGGHH!!!, is a self-avowed pacifist, trying to atone for his violent past. His principles are tested and reiterated at several points throughout the show. About halfway through the series, however, he violates his pacifism to save the life of Toby, his human friend. He deals a killing blow to a dangerous killer troll.

Toby looks in shock at his friend. “AAARRRGGHH!!! Your oath!”

And AAARRRGGHH!!! says, “Your life more important.”

This highlights a profound truth. It is found everywhere in Scripture. Some principles are greater than others. Jesus says that there are two commandments that are the greatest. Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. When he says these are greater than the others, I take it to mean that they are greater than the others.

And the character of AAARRRGGHH!!! understands the “love your neighbor” part more than most.

If we don’t put “love your neighbor” in its proper place, then we descend into self-righteousness, similar to the Pharisees. They would tithe from their spice rack, and declare that all they had was to be given God…and then neglect their own mothers. It sure looked and sounded great.

If my family is assaulted, I can sound high and mighty, and act superior by citing verses like “turn the other cheek” or “love your enemies,” and use them as a cover for cowardice while sounding extra holy and pious. If I fail to do something, what I’m really doing is hating my family. Hating the neighbors God has put directly under my charge.

This is one reason why the Bible has such a nuanced view of deception. The Hebrew midwives, when commanded to kill all the baby boys, lied to Pharaoh. To be honest in that situation would have been hating their neighbors. And God blesses them for their dishonesty.

Our principles are just something else we can end up boasting in, puffing ourselves up. But we should be careful to boast only in one thing.

“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Galatians 6:14

We are called to lay down our own lives. But we don’t get to choose to lay down the lives of others. Those are the very lives we should be cherishing more than our own.

This can play out in many different ways in our modern world as well. We are susceptible to the language and rhetoric of compassion, all the while harboring a hatred and contempt for our neighbors. If you have offered support for taking care of the poor or taking in refugees…and then “volunteer” someone else’s time, resources, and/or money, you are guilty of this.

Likewise, a friend should not seek to hurt another friend. But in some cases, the loving thing to do is to deliver a properly timed wound. “Niceness” isn’t necessarily a Christian virtue, and coddling can be just as hateful as a knife in the back.

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Proverbs 27:6

“On these hang all of the Law and the Prophets.” Your neighbors life is more important than the letter of the law.

“For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” 2 Corinthians 3:6

Discerning the correct path in a given situation isn’t always easy. Oftentimes, it requires a lifetime of practice (Hebrews 5:14), of honed wisdom. If it requires a quick decision, it becomes even harder.

But maybe AAARRRGGHH!!! the troll can can give us some valuable insight.

How do we engrain a love of our neighbors so that it becomes habit, engraved on our hearts and minds?

Donald Trump, Father Hunger, and the Sleeping Giant of Masculinity

First, go read this open letter to Donald Trump. I’ll wait.

The predominant narrative about the popularity of Donald Trump (colored by a desperation to stop him), explains it away as appealing to our baser instincts, such as racism, resentment toward our ruling class, and loyalty to the tribe. Nationalism, in particular.

Every Republican nominee for the past 30 years has been accused of hyperbolic nonsense, such as virulent racism. Remember Romney’s “war on women?” This makes the hysteria almost meaningless and rhetorically inert. It’s also not true. Trump is poised to gather more minority votes than any other Republican nominee in decades.

There certainly is truth in the ruling-class resentment, which I can sympathize with. The nationalism charge also rings true. This is part of the power and appeal of his immigration stance. But it begs a few questions. Why now? And why Trump, of all people? Why is he resonating so strongly?

Trump is actually tapping into something much deeper than any type of nationalism, any type of racial animosity. It’s much more instinctual. Visceral. The scary thing is (at least for those who are genuinely afraid of him), Trump has only just gotten started. This is still just the primary. He has come nowhere close to waking the sleeping giant.

People have no idea what’s about to burst from the seams of our culture, and it’s going to be shocking for those who don’t see it coming.

Did you read the open letter I linked to above? Good.

The key thing to note: Troy grew up without a father in the home. He sees in Trump a leader, a role model, something to aspire to. Someone who wins. Someone who leads. Someone who ruthlessly finishes a fight, but then is gracious to the vanquished. For lack of a better term…someone who acts like a man.

He sees in Trump a father figure.

It doesn’t matter if any of those things are true or not, just that they are perceived to be true. And he is not the only man to think that way. Not even close.

We live in a culture with a deep, gnawing father hunger. Two to three generations without any male role models, no examples of true, masculine strength. Even many that had a dad in the home still grew up functionally “fatherless.” There is something about Trump that resonates on a level that many can’t explain.

He is certainly a master of persuasion. Trump knows what he’s doing. But why is it working so well?

Fatherless men see a public figure oozing masculine energy in a way they have never really witnessed before. He is perceived as an alpha male, a leader who other men want to follow.

They see someone who, when hit, fights back. He doesn’t back down. And he wins. They wish they had the courage and conviction to fight like that. They grew up in a school system and culture that demonized masculine energy and strength, so seeing someone flaunt it openly is cathartic.

They see someone who doesn’t lurk off in shame when accused of something. He is not crippled by insecurity. They wish they could be like that. They are used to being nagged to death.

They see someone who shrugs off insults and laughs at stern finger-wagging. They wish they had that confidence. They are used to being nagged and hen-pecked to death, used to groveling for approval.

They see someone who doesn’t stumble over himself to apologize when someone, somewhere, claims to be offended. They wish they weren’t afraid. They hate themselves for tiptoeing around what they feel is the truth, silently afraid of being called a sexist pig for accidentally wearing the wrong shirt.

They see someone who has attracted and married three beautiful women. It feels like it shouldn’t matter, but it does. They have been told lies their whole life. “Just be a nice guy, and be yourself.” It never worked. They never married or their wives left them and took their children (studies show almost 70% of divorces are initiated by women). Trump must know something that they don’t.

They see someone with five children. The three oldest are all successful, and they all love, respect, and look up to their father. This is something almost every man yearns for. Listen to this Iowa radio ad with Ivanka Trump, his eldest daughter. After I listened to that, I knew Trump would win both the nomination and the presidency.

Many men in America today wish they had a father, and now they are all wishing that that father was Donald Trump. And if that’s not possible, then having him as President of the United States is the next best thing.

And they will make it happen.

Trump’s candidacy is already bringing out record numbers of voters, but this is just the beginning. More and more people (men especially, but also women) are going to find themselves wanting to be led by Donald Trump. Its a response to an instinct that has been suppressed and wound up like a spring. The spring is about to pop. The preference cascade has already started to roll.

Fatherless men, across every racial and economic spectrum, are going to rise up and vote in such large numbers that our political system will tremble at the sudden shock.

Even if Trump is just a parody of true masculinity, of true fatherhood, it doesn’t really matter. Our culture is so starved for the real thing that it will happily chase after the mirage.

Scott Adams has predicted that it will be be largest landslide in history (he predicted Trump’s rise way back in August), and I tend to agree. Our culture of fatherlessness and male feminization has made someone like Trump attractive and inevitable.

We only have ourselves to blame.

The truly bad news for those who fear Trump: if, somehow, Trump is not elected, it only opens the door for someone worse in the future. Someone who makes Trump look like a moderate statesman. The pressure valve will be released now or it will be released later.